In Between the Goals: Embrace the Process

Work vs. Play. Please note that my grocery store labeled Cadbury's Mini-Eggs "produce."

Words I have written in new novel started yesterday: 1,207

Words I need to write by October: 69,003

How many ways this is a bad idea: 42 million

My son got his first goal at a soccer game last night. The look on his face was a tremendous blend of “I can’t believe I just did that!” and “I just did that! I wanna do it again!”

I can relate: I have a goal-setting problem. This may come from the same gene as my list-making one, as if by simply writing down “Mueslix,” on a grocery list, it’s as good as done.

I absolutely love short-term goals: blog posts (check!), the newspaper articles I write (check!), essays (check!), getting a 10-miler or other long-run distance done each Wednesday (check!)… but the long-term ones are both my saviors and my nemeses (is that the plural of nemesis?).

I have come to view winter as a time to buckle down and work: the kids are at school (unless they’re sick, which can happen quite a bit in the winter), the weather is too cold to beckon me into the outdoors much, and Things Get Done. This winter, in between shivering and squinching my shoulders and threatening to move to The Islands, I did some novel queries, wrote and researched a couple of longer articles, trained for a half-marathon and felt generally productive.

Summertime, on the other hand, is my favorite season. After the kiddos get out of school, they fight with each other roughly every 5.3 seconds for the first two weeks. Then they settle in, and we go to the pool, visit the family, go to the beach, eat lots of ice cream, watch movies and go on bike rides/runs. Not a lot of goal-doing gets done. Short articles, and this summer, maybe short blog posts will get completed. Don’t bet on productivity. It’s a 16:1 spread.

Then there’s this wonky time in between the two seasons: the feeling of being untethered. The half-marathon over (but a 10-miler race next weekend!), the long, hot summer stands before me. The first novel written, the next one a shimmering possibility turning over and over in my mind. Completing a goal is a complicated mix of satisfaction and… what now?

Back in my last year of college, my then-boyfriend spent some time thinking I was uptight when the end of college was looming. Senior year, for me, was like the image old cartographers recorded of getting ready to step off the end of the world. I didn’t have the problem of having no goals, because my goal was to get a job. Preferably one that didn’t involve asking the two questions: “Would you like fries with that?” or “Would you like to put this on your credit card?”

(I’m rethinking about whether this is uplifting story, since I did end up waiting tables for seven months. And I’m a little peeved that I never got Employee of the Month.)

Some form of redemption did occur when my then ex-boyfriend (remember how unsupportive he was about my freak-out? I kick butts and take names, and don’t forget it.) came over and told me he finally got it. He finished college a year later and experienced the same form of untetheredness.

I did go on to get a job, and then another job, and another job… all goals, all checked off and satisfying. But always, there is the feeling of “what’s next?”

As a goal-setter, I’m trying to learn to embrace the process; the inevitable, in-between time… the time when thoughts are swirling but nothing is getting on paper or legs are covering shorter distances with no goal race in sight. Of course, the novel will get written, the race will be registered for.

I think about the goals themselves at my son’s soccer game: there’s the whole field, lots of running, and people serving as obstacles; the goals are a pretty small fraction of the whole game space. But when the ball sails in between the posts because you had something to do with it… satisfaction.

I’m setting new goals for the fall, even if there will be some slacking off during the summer months. And I have a new tool in my arsenal: Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs are now categorized as “produce.” I can’t imagine anything more motivating.

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Marathons I have completed: 1

Marathons I ever expected (or wanted) to complete: 0

Half marathon I will run in a week and a half to keep up my street cred: 1

My dad came to a stunning and horrifying conclusion when I was entering first grade: I was excited about heading back to school not for the academics, but for the social scene.

For better or for worse, this realization spoke volumes about my future motivations and accomplishments. Social interaction could motivate me to do lots of fun noble stuff.

Some people might call this peer pressure. Like the time when my friend told me I had to learn how to tie my own shoes after naptime because she wasn’t interested in being my servant anymore. So I bought only shoes with buckles, and they became the height of kindergarten fashion.

But I was not only the recipient of the pressure; I could dish it out, too. Also in kindergarten, I rounded up a few of my gang members and led them over to the Kitchen Center. I had decided it would be fun to cut our hair with safety scissors. I’m pretty sure my mom had said I had some split ends, and I was nothing but helpful when a task was at hand.

I wasn’t secretive about it; I probably would have asked the teacher if she wanted to take part, if only she had been paying attention. I was stunned when she and my mom didn’t approve of my vision.

Or the time when I missed learning borrowing in subtraction because the first grade teacher stuck us in the back of the classroom partially behind a chalkboard and expected us to care enough about a math thing I was sure I’d never use. I mean, grown-ups always used calculators, and I was destined to become a grown-up one day.

Problem was, I think I maybe influenced a couple crowd of other kids to draw cool monster pictures during those lessons, too. We are all now famous writers. Kind of.

Luckily for me, my minor mishaps in both being a pusher and a push-ee ended well.

I’ve noticed, though, that even as a grown-up I can be both influential and impressionable, in equal parts.

In September 2010, my BFF/running partner dropped a bomb.

Her: So, I’m going to sign up for a marathon in the spring.

Me: Wow! Good for you!

Her: And I thought you might want to run it with me… but no pressure.

Me: Yeah, I’m not really interested in running a marathon. I’m good with, you know, half marathons, and, like, 5 milers. Maybe while you’re training, I could do part of your long runs with you for support.

Her: Sure, yeah. That would be great…. So, I’ve already bought the parking pass, which makes parking at the marathon super-easy.

Me: Well, good for you.

Her: Sure will be dark when I get there in early March. And here I am, used to running with a partner…

Me: Yeah. But I’m sure the running community will be friendly and talk to a lonely fellow runner. No biggie.

Her: And on those long runs, I’ll need someone to protect me from killer squirrels…

Me: Dangit.

And that’s how I ended up running 26.2 miles. It was peer pressure, pure and simple.

Another annoying piece of evidence that peer pressure can get you to do stuff, even as a self-assured, middle-aged person: my writing group keeps expecting me to submit, like, writing. And they kind of want it to be good writing. This is a problem when I feel like I have been writing: blogs, work articles, letters, tax forms… But here comes yet another meeting, and they get all writer-y on me, thinking I’ve been making headway on a doomed re-write.

Guess what I’ll do? Re-write it.

As your blogging buddy, I would urge each and every one of you to become a user: use those pushy people thoughtful friends to encourage you. Whether it’s the next race, the next short story, the next novel or a better job, use them to turn your internal motivation dial one or two notches higher. You won’t regret it… except maybe if you use safety scissors to create the latest layered look.

Of Steve Jobs and ShotBloks

Pages read in Steve Jobs biography: 250

People interviewed for work this week: 5

ShotBloks consumed while running or otherwise: 0

I’m reading the Steve Jobs biography and have been inspired to add two things to my Christmas list for next year: a reality distortion field and minions. Reading about someone so powerful and creative who was able to bend others to his will has gotten me thinking that in order to write productively, I need to fabricate both helpers and an optimistic, unrealistic view of deadlines to push me to do my best. Here is my new office protocol:

“Self, I need this novel written in five months.”

“Not gonna happen. It’s impossible.”

Fix self with cold, unblinking stare, charm and charisma.

“OK. Maybe I can do it in six, but I’ll need some help and a budget for extra provisions.”

More staring.

“Yes, Ms. Woodman, ma’am. I’m on it.”

And then, my minion self starts thinking about what provisions could possibly be helpful… something both legal and mind-stimulating. Jobs used LSD. I could use… ShotBloks?

ShotBloks and I have an intimate history. My eyes get somewhat misty when I think what we’ve been through together. I’m not sure why my BFF/running partner looks at me funny when I mention them.

I had never used substances to aid my running before last year… maybe I once tried a GU at a race, but a half-marathon doesn’t really require additional fueling. Me + a marathon? Fueling was a must. I picked up some gummi bear-like things at the local running store: a tube of goodness in the form of ShotBloks. Black Cherry. Equal to one shot of espresso.

I set a plan: run the 16-miler, then meet up with my hubby for a large, fattening lunch of lobster ravioli, including 10-days worth of fat and calories. Yum. Mid-run, I absent-mindedly chewed up the whole strip of ShotBloks. And let me tell you–that was the best second half of a run EVER. I was on fire! I tried to get my running partner to turn it into a 26-miler, but she made up some lame excuse about having to pick her kids up from school or something. Killjoy.

When I went to meet my husband, the conversation went like this:

Him: Hey, how’d it go?

Me: OMG. You-would-not-believe-it! This-squirrel?-Itjumpedoutinfrontofusonthetrail…andwescreamedanditwassofunny!Iwishyouhadbeenthere.Theskywassoblue.OMG.

Him: Are you OK? (touching my forehead)

Me: (nervous laughter) Heeeheehee. Idon’tknowwhatyou’retalkingabout!?Imean,IguessI’mjustjazzedfromthatawesomerun!

Him: Ooookaayyy.

Me: Oh. I-did-try-this-new-fueling-thingy, ShotBloks? They’re-so-amazing. They-taste-good, too, like, much-better-than-gummi-bears-ever-did.

Him: Ohhhhhh. I get it now.

See? That’s the kind of thing that my mind needs to go into super-speedy creativity mode. Santa, please bring me creativity minions, a reality distortion field and ShotBloks for a marathon writing session. Stat.